A Glorified Body
By Dr. Philip W. McLarty
Two weeks ago we heard how Jesus appeared to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. He went to their home for supper and, when he broke bread with them, their eyes were opened and they recognized him as the risen Christ.
Once they recognized him he disappeared. Just like that, he was gone. It was though he vanished into thin air. They were so excited they ran all the back to Jerusalem to tell the others. Here’s what happened that evening.
They went back to the Upper Room where the others were staying and told them all about what had happened. As they were talking, Jesus appeared. How did he get in? According to John, the door was locked, “for fear of the Jews.” (John 20:19) They were startled. They thought it was ghost.
Jesus showed them the nail prints in his hands and feet. Then he asked for something to eat, not because he was hungry, but because he wanted them to know that he was real. They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it – right in front of them! This was no apparition. It was Jesus … in the flesh.
But what kind of flesh? That’s what I’d like for us to think about this morning because – well, let’s face it – there’s a lot of misinformation circulating about the resurrection of the body.
I conducted my first funeral in 1971. I was student pastor of a small, rural church north of Dallas. The funeral took place in McKinney, Texas; the burial was in a country cemetery about ten miles west.
I rode out to the cemetery with the funeral director. As we turned into the cemetery heading north, he made a point to tell me that the head of the body would be placed to the left of the family. Naïvely, I asked, “What difference does that make?” He looked at me with furrowed eyebrows and said, “Because that’s where you’re supposed to stand.” “Oh,” I said. “Thanks, I didn’t know that.”
He said, “And I bet you didn’t know that the graves are laid out east and west either, did you?” I looked at the rows of graves we were passing and, sure enough, they were all in neat, orderly rows, perpendicular to the entrance. Showing my ignorance, I asked, “Why is that?” Like an exasperated professor, he said, “So that the bodies can rise up to acknowledge the Son of Man when he appears in the east at the Second Coming.” Honest to God, the thought had never occurred to me.
After the burial, I looked down at the grave and tried to imagine how this man’s corpse, now sealed in the casket, was going to sit up and welcome Jesus as he appeared in the clouds. I wondered to myself that day, as I wonder even now, is this what we mean by the resurrection of the body? Surely, there’s more to it than that. But what?
The gospel lesson this morning gives us a clue. Jesus appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room on the evening of the resurrection. He appeared out of nowhere, just as he had disappeared into thin air at the home in Emmaus. Yet, the disciples clearly saw his nail-scarred hands and watched in amazement as he ate a piece of fish.
What Luke describes here is what we call a “glorified body” – something more than a hologram, and something more than a physical body like yours and mine.
But exactly what is this glorified body? Here’s what Paul told the Corinthians:
“Some will ask, ‘How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?’ How foolish! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.”
As Paul sees it, the resurrection of our bodies is similar to planting seeds: The seed itself decays as it gives way to roots and a stalk and leaves and, in time, a full-grown flower or plant. He says, “It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.” He admits it’s a mystery that no one can fully comprehend or explain.
Nevertheless, he says, ” … in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet … the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:52-57)
So, what does all this mean? How can we put it into terms we can all relate to and understand? I’ll give it shot.
First, this mortal body we live in is only a shell. It’s not meant to last forever. Nor is it meant to be resuscitated at some future point after we die. It’s only a temporary dwelling. Our permanent dwelling is yet to come. Paul says,
“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.” (2 Corinthians 5:1)
Second, when we die it does not matter if the body is embalmed, or cremated, or simply placed in a pine box and put in the ground, or buried at sea. It’s not this body that will be resurrected, but a glorified body. And it’s this glorified body by which we will be recognized in heaven … a body not defined by age or race or gender or any physical attributes.
Do you read the obituaries? Do you ever look at the pictures of those who’ve died? Have you ever noticed the disconnect that often exists between a person’s age at the time of death and their age when the picture was taken?
Well, why not? Do you want to be remembered as an old and wrinkled 100-year-old, or as a healthy and robust young man, or a pert and pretty young woman, who happened to live to be a hundred years old?
Third, our glorified body is something other than flesh and blood. Think of it as energy, rather than matter. Here’s what I mean:
I used to be big fan of Star Trek, The Next Generation. One of the crew members of the starship,Enterprise, is Wesley Crusher. Wesley is in his late teens and an aspiring Starfleet officer. On one of their voyages, the Enterprise comes into contact with a distant planet in trouble. The leader of the planet and her attaché are beamed aboard the Enterprise to consult with Captain Picard. As it happens, she turns out to be a fair young princess – and the most beautiful girl Wesley has ever laid eyes on.
Wesley is mesmerized by her charm and beauty, and she is just as enchanted with Wesley. They spend every available moment together. But, alas, the time comes for them to part. In parting, she explains to Wesley that what he sees in her outer appearance is only an allusion put on for his benefit, that if he saw her in her true form, it would scare him to death.
Wesley assures her that he would feel the same about her, no matter what she looked like. And so, as she is about to be beamed back to her planet, she morphs into her natural appearance and allows Wesley to see her true self. Wesley watches in awe as she changes into the most brilliant, dazzling array of pure light he has ever seen. And, even though it’s far different from what she looked like as a princess, he knows, without a doubt, that it is she, the girl of his dreams.
Well, I imagine that heaven is something like that: An infinite number of people clothed in their glorified bodies living in community with God and each other, knowing each other and being known by each other perfectly, unconditionally, without blemishes, impediments or faults. Paul puts it this way:
“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Finally, imagine this glorified body as being immune to the trials and tribulations and heartbreaks of everyday life. In the Book of Revelation, John writes,
“God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
The Good News is that one of these days you will receive the promise of this glorified body. So will I. And so will all those who confess faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins. He paid the price of our sinful nature that we might be set free from this bondage of decay and given the promise of eternal life in God’s heavenly kingdom.
In the meantime, there’s work to be done, and this is where the gospel lesson leads us today.
Jesus appeared to the disciples not only to let them know that he had risen from the grave, but to open their minds to understanding the scripture and to give them their marching orders.
He said, “You are witnesses of these things.” It’s up to you to tell others what you’ve seen and heard – to carry the message of salvation to the four corners of the earth, to make disciples of all the nations.
In closing, I’d like to tell you J. D.’s story. J. D.’s wife, Sarah, was diagnosed with cancer. They went through the whole course of surgery and chemotherapy together. It seemed as though she was winning the battle. But then, the cancer came back with a vengeance, stronger than ever. Finally, she elected not to have any more treatments, but to stay home and let nature take its course.
She enrolled in Hospice, and J. D. set up a hospital bed for her in the living room where she could watch TV, receive visitors and not feel cooped up in the back of the house. All the while, the tumor was growing in her abdomen.
When the end seemed near, J. D. called the kids to home and say goodbye to their mother. They got there over the weekend with their spouses. Monday morning, the hospice nurse came to check her vital signs and told the family that, if they wanted to say their final goodbyes, now was the time.
J. D. sat by Sarah’s bedside, off and on, throughout the day, holding her hand and reminiscing about the thirty-odd years they’d shared together. Toward evening, he read from the Psalms, and then turned to the last chapter of Proverbs, where it begins,
“A godly woman, who can find? She is more precious than rubies. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not harm all the days of her life.” (Proverbs 31:10-12)
As he read, Sarah rested comfortably, her breathing shallow, but regular. At one point, she stirred slightly and whispered to J. D., “I love you.”
When he got toward the end of the passage, he read,
“Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her (saying): ‘Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.’ Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, shall be praised.”
He said he got to the last verse, and she gave out a big sigh. She never took another breath. He said, “I knew she was gone, and I just sat there. Mind you, I didn’t see or hear anything unusual, but, as I sat there, it was as if her soul just up and left her body, right there in front of me. The image I had was that Jesus himself had come down out of heaven and taken her by the hand and led her home.”
“That was a long time ago,” he said, “but, to this day, I still feel her presence. I still see her smile and hear her laugh and know that she is with me. And I believe with all my heart that, one day, I’ll see her again.”
Paul told the Romans,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us, for the creation is eagerly waiting for the children of God to be revealed … and not only the creation, … but we, who have the first fruits of the Spirit. We also groan inwardly as we eagerly wait for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:18, 23)
Brothers and sisters, know this: You have a glorified body waiting for you. It was bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ. One of these days, you’ll be clothed in this glorified body to live among the saints on high in God’s eternal kingdom.
In the meantime, tell others what you’ve seen and heard. Bear witness to the living Christ. Help them to know Jesus in their own hearts and experience the gift of new life in him.
Let us pray: Eternal God, give us grace to accept the gift of life you have made possible for us in Jesus Christ, and give us courage to share the Good News with others, for his name’s sake. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.
Copyright 2013 Philip McLarty. Used by permission.